Service learning experience provided a significant point of difference for Avondale College of Higher Education students who missed the first few classes of the semester to attend a United Nations (UN) symposium in Thailand.
More than 1,000 delegates from 300 universities in almost 90 countries gathered in Bangkok for the 9th University Scholars Leadership Symposium, held August 2-6, 2018. Thirteen of the delegates were from Avondale, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia. While Avondale was among the colleges with small contingents, its students made a big impression.
The symposium, which the UN holds in a developing country in the Asia-Pacific region each year, helps students develop leadership and life skills to benefit the world around them. It provides opportunities for them to learn from professional trainers, life coaches, and humanitarian workers, network with other students, and serve the local community.
“I learned so much about what happens in the world and how easy it is to make a difference by simply starting something,” said Avondale Student Association president Dan Wilson. “There’s so much that needs doing, and it’s up to us. Meeting like-minded people has inspired me to do something!”
Secondary teaching student Bianca Maggs, international poverty and development studies major Linda Ciric, and several other students joined Wilson as delegates. Their days began with a networking breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and keynotes and breakaway sessions beginning at 9:00.
“Many of the presentations were motivational,” said Ciric, “giving us the tools to discover our passion, purpose, and preferred area of service.”
Hearing from presenters with diverse experience — speakers represented the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral agencies — reminded Maggs that “no matter what you do, you can still use it to help other people.”
Stories from speakers who had created their not-for-profit organizations and established projects to help others inspired Ciric.
“It’s possible to make a significant difference,” she said. “I’m not only a citizen of Australia but of the world. I have a duty of care to every human being on this planet and to the planet itself. I need to make sure I’m making wise, ethical choices that help, not harm others.”
Getting out and helping local communities through service formed an integral part of the symposium, with projects such as weed clearing from a river and teaching English language lessons among the activities. Maggs took the latter option, visiting a school where the United Nations has been working. The local students taught her some traditional dances.
Wilson, Ciric, Maggs, and their classmates discovered through networking with other delegates how unique the Avondale experience is — especially its focus on service.
“Leadership through service is important to us,” said campus chaplain Wayne French. “Our students had stories to share because of their experience with One Mission, STORM Co, and other service learning projects. Students from other universities were really impressed.”
“It seems many of the universities don’t offer these same opportunities,” Wilson said.
The Avondale students will use what they learned to make a difference in their preferred area of service.
“Service takes many forms,” said Ciric. “Your best acts will come from wherever your skills and abilities lie. Getting involved grows you — your character, your networks, your passions. It will teach you more than any lecture or workshop.”